Winner, winner

Cocktail competition season is in full swing, and it’s exciting to see so many B.C. bartenders competing both on the local and world stage.

Kaitlyn Stewart at Diageo World Class in 2017. Diageo World Class photo

After Royal Dinette’s Kaitlyn Stewart won Diageo World Class in 2017, all eyes are on the global competition whose winner is considered best bartender in the world. The 2018 round kicked off in January, with regional challenges being held in March and the Canadian finals scheduled for May 7 to 10. Good luck to all who dare enter.

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Harvest vine

Canada’s first custom crush facility moves into spirits

Lionel Trudel photo

When Okanagan Crush Pad opened in 2011, it was the first custom-crush facility of its kind in Canada. With a focus on showcasing the fresh minerality of local grapes, OCP allowed small growers to make and market their own wines. Since then, the facility has grown by leaps and bounds. “We’ve graduated about 12 different wineries and have our own two labels, Haywire and Narrative,” says Matt Dumayne, OCP’s chief winemaker. The famed concrete eggs that replaced the traditional oak barrels for aging have been so successful that the facility has now phased out oak and invested in even more of the space-shaped vats over more concrete tankings totaling 60,000 litres.

Now, Dumayne gets to add another title: that of chief distiller. “I’d done some distilling previously in New Zealand, which is the only country in the world where it’s legal to distill in your own home,” he laughs. “I’d played around with brandies and grappas, and other spirits.”

The turning point was when OCP started looking into making a fortified, port-style wine. “We wanted to use our own wine, instead of a grain-based spirit from elsewhere,” explains Dumayne. “We received our license last October, and started by bottling a brandy-style grape spirit, made from seven different varietals. Each varietal makes for a different flavour profile, so there was a lot of experimentation at first.”

The result is the first release under the winery’s Narrative label, Spirit of the Vineyard, a triple-distilled spirit with a clean, fresh profile. And, while Dumayne states that vodka is not in the plans, he’s quick to point out that Spirit of the Vineyard can be used as a substitute for vodka. “It’s clear and very pure,” he explains. Nor is that the only spirit that OCP is launching.

In November, barely a month after the license was granted, Dumayne was contacted by Vij’s Restaurant Group about creating a handcrafted gin to celebrate the launch of the new location on Cambie Street in Vancouver. “We worked very closely with Vikram, Jay Jones and Mike Bernardo to create something very distinctive. It was a rush, but we had it bottled and ready for the opening,” noted Dumayne.

The result was Vij’s Bolly Water, a London Dry-style gin, savoury and a little spicy, with hints of fennel and anise—both ingredients that are heavily used in Vij’s kitchens. And with Vij’s Bolly Water under its belt, OCP is now working on its own Narrative gin, called 12 Botanicals, which leans more toward the fresh, citrus-driven style.

As for the future, Dumayne is working on some longer-term projects. “I’m aging some grape spirit in old wine barrels. It’s all experimental at this point. It will be at least three to five years before we have anything, but we’re aiming for something lively and fresh, with subtle French oak notes.”

Brandy, anyone?

Okanagan Crush Pad, based in Summerland B.C., is open for tours, tastings and has a retail centre that offers their full line of spirits and wine. The winery is located on Switchback Organic Vineyard, home to roaming sheep, chickens and ducks.

Okanagan Crush Pad,
16576 Fosbery Road, Summerland,

Funky Town

Could B.C.’s new spirits inspire a truly West Coast cocktail culture?

At Royal Dinette, Kaitlyn Stewart embraces the challenge craft spirits bring. Fred Fung photo.

Kaitlyn Stewart slides a mason jar filled with a disturbingly yellow liquid across her bar at Royal Dinette in downtown Vancouver. I hope it’s not what it looks like.

“Milk liqueur,” she says, beaming proudly. “Double strained after sitting on the shelf for 10 days.”

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Culture Club

Talented bartenders have put Vancouver’s cocktail scene on the world map.

Wendy McGuinness says local spirits must earn their place on her back bar. Fred Fung photo.

In the mood for a Sazerac? How about a Negroni punch bowl mixed with local gin and vermouth, or a playful spin on Arctic Ungava with a dash of citric acid and spritz of Laphroaig perfume? Whatever your poison, it can be found in Vancouver, home to one of the most vibrant cocktail scenes in North America.

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